SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander Jhoulys Chacin made progress on Sunday in his quest for sharpness.Chacin, rebounding from a poor outing in his previous start and a finger blister that shortened the start before that, held the Reds to two runs and six hits in five innings and earned the decision in the Rockies' 7-3 victory at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. The key figure was Chacin threw only 82 pitches. That represented greater efficiency than he displayed on Tuesday night, when he lasted just three innings, gave up three runs and seven hits and threw a disturbing 70 pitches against the Padres in Peoria, Ariz. Afterward, he fielded questions about his finger, which he said was fine, and his fastball location, which clearly wasn't. This time, he faced the Reds' regular-season lineup. Although he played with fire by falling behind middle-of-the-lineup hitters as the outing progressed, Chacin saw improvement. Chacin was able to escape with a victory because, with the bases loaded, he forced Jay Bruce into an inning-ending grounder. "I'm happy I could make my pitch and get out of the inning," Chacin said. "Today, I had better location, but I still threw some pitches up. But my arm feels really good. I'm getting ready.
"It helped me to see hitters that I'll see during the season. I had to make my pitch to get the good hitters out. I'm trying to get more contact, get the hitter to swing the bat."Chacin, 24, went 11-14 with a 3.62 ERA in 31 starts last year, his first full season in the Majors. He had 18 quality starts (six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs) and held opponents to a .231 batting average. Those numbers could have been better, but high pitch counts derailed him, especially during the second half of the season. Rockies manager Jim Tracy has limited Chacin's focus to attacking the strike zone with his fastball, which should make his secondary pitches more effective. "Jhoulys was better today," Tracy said. "The fastball was down today. The consistency of it for strikes can still be a little bit better." Tracy said if Chacin reaches the next level of fastball command, 82 pitches in five innings can become 74 or 75. That means he could pitch into the seventh inning and beyond. Chacin might have been able to squeeze out another inning if not for the two-out at-bat by Scott Rolen in the fifth. Rolen fouled off several pitches before drawing a walk. At least Chacin made up for it by quickly forcing Bruce's double play. "I threw everything, and he fouled it off," Chacin said. "I was looking for a groundball because he's a slow runner, and if you get it, it's a double play. After I walked him, I just tried to throw a sinker down and away to Bruce. That's what I've been talking about, don't put pressure on myself, and make the hitter hit a groundball." Chacin, who has one more Cactus League start, said he is happy with his arm strength, which should help him control his fastball. "My arm feels really good," Chacin said. "At the beginning of Spring Training, I didn't feel that strong or that good, but especially today I feel way better, a little bit more power."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.